This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
“We’re gonna apparently kill Moby-Dick, so, uh, what am I up against? And should I be concerned? And what of… What has Moby-Dick ever done to me?”
“These are all good questions. And from what I could gather, Moby-Dick is this… giant white whale, just as advertised. He’s got a big, snowy hump on his back. [Sigh.] He’s got a… if I were… asked to describe him to a police sketch artist, I’d say his forehead is extremely wrinkled. Not an attractive… whale. Goin’ around with a big wrinkled forehead. Come to think of it, maybe he’s old. Uh… I’m not sure I say this in the book, but maybe we’re supposed to think he’s old l—like Captain Ahab, because—and in this chapter, too, we really hit that hard again: Ahab is old. Old gray-headed man, out there chasing whales and makin’ everybody else pay the price.”
[Long pause. Coffee gulping.]
“Torn in body and soul…! A very picture of… the futile… malignancy of… age as it thrashes out against the injustice of decay. Boy, that was terrible!”
“But I said it. And that was just not well put. Oh! But here’s something. I was going to read one quotation I really like from my own… narration. Uhhhh… where is it? It’s just a… [long pause] mmm. [Long pause. Sniff.] I can’t find it! There it is. Something about Moby-Dick, quote, ‘when seen gliding at high noon through a dark blue sea, leaving a milky-way wake of creamy foam, all spangled with golden gleamings.’ End of quote. Now if that was on a… restaurant menu, I’d order it! Mm! I want some of those golden gleamings in a creamy white foam. [Sigh.] Anyway, Moby-Dick’s out there, swimmin’ around! And naturally, let me tell ya. Uh… He’s so big and ugly that—and…! Oh, the main thing—and I didn’t even get to this part yet—the main thing is how mean he is! He’s just mean and hateful. Why, I could tell you stories. People are out there chasing him, wanting to stab him to pieces… and, and he’ll act like he’s scared and swim out… away, and… uh…”
Hold on. This cat may need some… food. You got enough food in there, Pan? Oh, yeah. You’re doin’ good.
“Now. It’s me, Ishmael again. Sorry for that interruption. Please! I was just getting to the good part. So he’s out there, ‘Oh, no!’ This is Moby-Dick. ‘Oh, golly, don’t hurt me, Mister Sailorman!” And he’s swimmin’ away. And suddenly he’ll just turn around. ‘Yeah, that’s right! I’m not scared! I’m Moby-Dick!’ Then he just crunches up your boats. Smashes ‘em to pieces with his head, and bites your leg off! If you’re Captain Ahab. Captain Ahab, who… is trying to stab him at that point with a…”
Hey, hey. Don’t claw up the couch.
“Captain Ahab, who’s got his pocketknife out, just jabbing at Moby-Dick in the face. Moby-Dick’s like, ‘Hmm! I think I’m gonna eat your leg.’ Uh… we’ll get back to the… aftereffects of this fateful encounter!”
“Anyway, everybody acts so surprised that Moby-Dick doesn’t like being—people chasing him and trying to stab him to death with giant spears. So… he takes that a little personally for some reason! We can’t figure it out. Uh, what accounts for this malignancy?”
“Well, anyway, Moby-Dick is so unusual that there are… you know, with any—any time you’ve got a giant white whale with a snowy hump on his back and a, wuhhhrrrruhhh, gigantic wrinkled brow of woe… you start having crazy rumors, like, ‘I heard Moby-Dick could be in two places at once!’”
This is me interrupting again. Because that part of the story reminded me of Padre Pio, the Christian mystic. Look him up! He was often… observed… by his pals… to be in two places at once! Uh, he also had a very nice smell. Whenever—right before he appeared: “Hmm! Mmm! What’s that? It’s a nice cologne!” Nope! It’s just Padre Pio’s special smell he has exuded, much like the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Sevi, who had to get a rabbi to come over to his house and… and, “Look, rabbi! You got to tell these people! They think I’m wearing perfume. It’s just how I smell because I’m holy.” That’s a real thing you can… I don’t know. Check Wikipedia. Holy smells.
Okay, I’m gonna hand it back over to—to, uhm, Ishmael. God, I feel like Norman Lear. One time, this was many years ago, I was at some kind of… conference? Or… I don’t know what it was. And Norman Lear was a guest speaker, and he said, “Well…” Uh… “Sometimes I just don’t know what to say about politics. So I like to hand it over to my friend Bill.” And then he took out a… like a baseball cap, a denim baseball cap, or something, and put it on, and then he was like, “I’m Bill!” Eh, it wasn’t convincing.
[Throat clearing. Sigh.]
“I’m just a regular guy named Bill.” It was, you know, kind of patronizing, honestly. Guh—God bless Norman Lear and all his achievements.
[Coffee pot clunking down.]
In [stifled laugh] much the same way… I… look to him as my lodestar as I… hand things back over to my good pal Ishmael.
“You know, I’ve been gone so long I can’t remember what I was saying. Uh, oh, yeah! Crazy rumors. Moby-Dick. He could be in two places at once, I say! ‘Oh, yes? Well, I heard that he’s immortal!’ Yes, that whale’s been alive forever, and he wrote the very first song.”
That’s an allusion that… you can just… toss in your… pit of… disregard.
This is me again, by the way. I just wanted to interrupt and say that… th—that made me think of Dracula too, the part about Moby-Dick’s immortality, because Van Helsing goes off on a long, uhhhhrmmhh, monologue in Dracula about animals that can live forever, like a spider that lives in a… I think a Spanish church. And it comes down at night and drinks the oil out of the… lamps. And it gets to be, I don’t know, you know, much bigger than a spider should… ever be.
And, and lest you—am I using “lest” correctly?
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick.
Please follow the original text of Moby-Dick here, if you like (highly recommended).